Monday, September 14, 2015

2015 Tomahawk Challenge 24 Hour Adventure Race by Amanda Lappe.

2015 Tomahawk Challenge 24 Hour Adventure Race by Amanda Lappe.  Comments in Red by Neil Dickhaus, BOR Green by Scott Shaw.


Scott, Neil, and I met Larry at Harmonie State Park, New Harmony, Indiana, where the race would start and finish, on Friday afternoon.  After quick introductions, we set up our tents and then headed into the town of New Harmony for check-in, dinner, and the pre-race meeting at the Ribeyre Center (I was hoping that was a typo and it was actually the Ribeye Center, but alas, I was let down).  After checking in, we went with Chuck and Kate of Team Virtus to Sara’s Harmony Way for a locally-brewed beer.  
Larry arrived in town earlier than we did and had scouted out the best place in town.  He bought us a growler (thanks again, Larry!) to share and we killed some time there before dinner.
Back at the not-Ribeye Center, we had a lasagna dinner and chatted with the guys from IbuPROfen, three younger guys who we would see a lot out on the course.  At the pre-race meeting, John, the race director, told us about some of the unique history of the town of New Harmony, warned us about a missing cow we may encounter, cautioned us about the Asian carp in the river, and encouraged us to bring some warm clothes for Saturday night.  I was very happy I followed his advice.  I was excited to win a set of boot dryers in the prize drawing.  

The map we received is literally bigger than my kitchen table.  The USGS map was last updated in 1927, but John did a lot of work updating it and adding trails and boundaries for the state park.  We were given coordinates for the first 12 checkpoints and got to work plotting.  After some initial confusion (Scott read the coordinates backwards), we got 12 points plotted and Neil and I took our map up to make a couple of additional changes based on the master map.  While waiting in line, Neil and I both noticed that all of our points were plotted differently than those on the map of the racer in front of us (Scott is a big dumby).  Uh-oh.  After marking an out-of-bounds area and a change in the river course from the master map, we went back to our team with the bad news.  We finally got our points plotted correctly and headed back to the park to do some last minute gear packing and sleep.

CPs 1-12

We were told at the racer meeting that the 21 mile trip to the bike drop would take about 45 minutes each way (actual time was closer to 25 minutes the way Scott was driving, I think he had a date with the latrine back at the camps site) (This is the first time anyone on the team complained I was driving too fast), so we left the campground at 4:40am.  After dropping off bikes, shoes, lights, and helmets, we returned to the start/finish area for some pre-race pictures and got ready to begin.  Race Director John told us we would find our passports at the Cherry Hill Shelter and turned us loose.  We immediately began running the wrong way, but quickly corrected and took the trail short-cut.  (Our way was a road route that would have worked but would have been longer) There was a super-slippery bridge we ran on for part of the trail and then we were out of the woods and to the shelter.  We located CP1, a reentrant/sinkhole, without too much difficulty and then used the park boundary line to guide us most of the way to CP2.  This turned out to be a smart choice because we were close to last getting to CP1 after our initial misdirection getting to the passports and we arrived at CP2 ahead of lots of teams.  Once we arrived in the general area, we struggled to find the marker.  It turns out, if something is above eye-level, it is invisible to Scott, as he missed it the first time he passed the control.  (I actually climbed under a fallen tree directly below the point, then I couldn’t reach it). He found it though, and we moved on to CP3, a really interesting root cave.  On the way, I took the map to try to give Neil a break so he could eat and then Scott and I proceeded to get us lost (Scott shot a wrong bearing).  We made our way to the road to re-attack and with Neil back on the map we found it quickly.  He was also spot-on with his nav to CP4, a failed dam.  CP5 took us a bit of time once we were in the general area, but we located that one as well (I was standing at a reentrant junction looking at the map, wondering what I did wrong, when Scott called out from 20m behind me,”there it is”, “where?”, “lookup” there it was 2m in front of me at eye level.  I felt pretty dumb) (Harder to see than normal O flags).  We had about a 3k trek on country roads to CP6, a reentrant source/sink hole, and then we took some more gravel road to CP7, “tip of spur.”  We looked at the tip of every spur in the area and were becoming frustrated.  Chuck and Kate arrived about this time and Scott and Chuck found the control (Chuck was watching me try to molest a fallen tree and saw it behind me), on the opposite side of the creek from where we had the point plotted (wasn’t this just above Scotts head again?).  We trekked to CP8 in a Team BOR/Virtus/Solo Racer Mike conglomeration and debated the merits of popping dead, bloated animals.
 Chuck is pro-popping, while Kate and I are adamantly against it.  The clouds started getting darker at this point and we felt a couple rain drops, but the weather held and the day was mostly sunny and mild.  We were relieved to have an easy CP, as 8 was a log cabin right off the road.
 We continued on with Virtus and solo racer Mike to CP9, where we all separated for a bit.  We found the control in a spring and then followed the edge of a cornfield and a trail to what we thought was the correct hilltop for CP10.  After searching the area, Neil realized we were not actually at the top of the hill and we continued on up to the correct area (this is where I handed off the map to eat again, guess I need to quit that bad habit).  Scott punched the passport and we headed down the hill into the town of New Harmony.  CP11 was unique, as it was inside a labyrinth made of hedges.  
We all walked around the maze, searching for the control, and then Scott and I found it from opposite directions at the same time.
(I wish the hedges were taller than me) After refilling water bladders and grabbing some food from our packs, we headed through the center of town to CP12, a reentrant.  It turns out, once you reach civilization, Neil can no longer tell east from north (Kidding! Sort of.) (there were no hills to read, it was flat.  Also I blame Scott, I told him not to let me nav in town, but he let me take the map away from him) (I told you where to go and then I told you Chuck was going the right way and to follow him but you kept circling the tavern, some would think you wanted a beer, what’s 15 minutes walking aroung town during a race?  Amanda we could have got that beer), so we took the scenic route to CP12, a reentrant, which also happened to have a fantastic view of the Wabash River, where we would be canoeing.  At TA1, we had to show our knives for a gear check.  Neil and I plotted points for the next leg, while Larry patched up my blistered feet and then Scott and Larry got our gear down to the river and ready for us to start paddling.

CPs 13-19

We were informed at TA1 that we missed the time cutoff for CP13 by 15 minutes, which would have had us heading north, against the current, on the Wabash River before turning around and going back south for 14.  We were bummed at the time, but looking back, it was for the best because we heard later it was about an hour and a half of paddling for that one CP.  Number 14 was a really easy-to-find hilltop (Not easy to climb, and I walked right past it while looking in its direction, Larry saw it).  We took our canoes out at CP 15 as Team Virtus were putting in to continue on.  I watched them to see which route they were going to take downriver, as there were rocks across the middle of the channel which caused there to be a small section of rapids, both on the left and right sides of the river.  Upon first look, I thought it would be a quick, splashy ride through on the left-hand side.  Unfortunately, Chuck and Kate flipped, spilling both of them, plus their gear, into the river.  Thankfully, the race directors had posted kayakers with throw ropes on the rocks, so they were rescued quickly and one of them even retrieved Kate’s food as it was floating down the river, so actual crisis was averted.  I told Scott, with no room for negotiation, that we were portaging.  I love whitewater and I’ve done my share of swimming in whitewater much bigger than this, but I don’t like to be cold and wet.  He didn’t argue with me and we carried our canoe down the shoreline over some rocks.  (Amanda has team white water veto power) It was tough and the canoe was heavy, but we were warm and dry.  Neil and Larry took a different route, paddling up to the rocks in the channel, getting out and portaging over them, and then putting in on the downstream side of them (this turned out to be a good decision for us since neither of us felt like carrying a canoe, unfortunately we did have 1 causality, my paddle.  It was bent but usable to finish).  
CP16 was a low point in the race for me.  The map showed Mink Island to be fairly small and to have one inlet, which was where the point was plotted.  It should have been a quick punch, but instead, took us close to an hour.  We walked all over the island looking for the CP.  Larry and I started following a trail of footprints and ended up going right past the CP, which was tucked into the leaves of a downed tree.  Thankfully, Scott pays better attention, because he found it (did you notice that it was not above his head?) (Is this where I circled the island once found nothing, twice, found the point, thrice and found Neil?).  CP17 was a boat ramp where we had another gear check (strobe light and glow sticks).  We attached our glow sticks to the bow and stern of our canoes and got out our head lamps.  Scott was standing with his paddle in hand and the photographer made the mistake of telling him he looked like an ancient god.  I’ll give him ancient, but way.  (I love that beautiful intelligent woman) So with his head the size of a beach ball, we put back on the river.  When we looked back, Neil was taking off his jersey to add a baselayer, so we joked that he was jealous of Scott getting all the attention from the volunteers (no nude pics of me, I have a reputation to uphold, plus I had not been drinking). (Ancient Buddha)  CP18, Grand Chain Island, was plotted on the southern tip of the northernmost of two small islands in the middle of the channel.  We docked at the south end and looked briefly for the control, before noticing lights on the island just downstream of us.  As I was looking, I realized that there was actually a third island past the second one and that the channel between the first two was extremely shallow.  I remembered from the racer meeting the director saying that they had a lot of flooding in the area this year and that the river changed course.  I asked the guys if it was possible that the first two islands had been one bigger one and a channel opened up between them during the flood.  (good call)They thought it made sense, so we went to the next island where we found the control.  We had decided in TA1 that we would skip CP19, as it looked to be a long paddle up a tributary river for one control.  We saw a ton of flying Asian carp in the river, including one that jumped up and hit a man in a small boat, knocking him off of his seat (that was truly the funniest part of the race) and I was in perpetual fear of one ending up in the canoe with me.  The end of the paddle was gorgeous.  The stars were super bright and we could hear owls hooting in the trees.  
TA2 was up next, where we dropped the paddling gear, got some hot chocolate from the fantastic volunteers, plotted more points, had a gear check for our red blinking lights, and took off on bikes.


This section went smoothly.  Neil was super accurate on navigation and set a quick pace on the bike (probably too quick, but I didn’t want to breath the gravel dust the other teams were stirring up).  We rode in a pack with several other teams on this leg and made up a lot of ground.  After CP23, we had to make a choice whether to head to TA3 or to go for 24 and 25 (both of which I was considering, but was convinced that they were easy points with our strongest mode of travel), which were farther away and appeared be on hillier roads.  We decided to stay on bikes as long as we could, so we rode down some sketchy mud/gravel/more slimy mud roads to 24 and 25 before returning to the start/finish area for TA3.

At TA3, we received a clue sheet for CPs 26-46.  They were broken up into three main sections; CP26-30 were trekking points that could be obtained in any order.  We took a poll and decided to skip these because, as a team, we are stronger on bikes.  My blistered feet were very happy about that decision.  We plotted points 31-44, which were all biking points that had to be obtained in order, but for some of them, we could leave our bikes and some, we had to obtain from the bikes with no bushwhacking.  

CPs 31-40

Neil navigated us straight to CP31 (an old cemetery in the woods- spooky!) and 32, a trail/creek crossing.  The clue for CP33 was “reentrant.”  We looked in the area where we thought it was, but we were never certain we were on the correct trail.  When we failed to locate it, we decided to move on, but we passed Team Virtus coming from the opposite direction and Neil and Chuck had a navigator-chat and looked for the point together.  Unfortunately, we never found it and spent a lot of time on that one point.  When we got back to the road, Neil told us that he was done.  Confused, I asked, “With the map?” I told him I could take over for a while.  He replied that he was done with the race and said he was having severe headaches.  We took him back to the start/finish area and spoke with volunteers, who called EMS over to him.  After leaving him in their capable hands, Scott, Larry, and I resumed the race as unofficial.  (disappointing for me, I never had a headache come on that fast of that bad)  I took over navigating for a while and we made our way to the singletrack area of the state park.  These trails were fantastic!  We started on a trail rated as beginner for CPs 34 and 35.  It was fast and flowy, with little elevation change.  It was so much fun and a really good thing it was dark and I couldn’t tell what was just off the trail.  Scott told me later that a volunteer at the ropes course said it was an extremely steep drop-off into a very deep reentrant.  (I think that was between CP36 and CP38) CP34 and 35 were right on the trail and had the comical clues of “bend in trail” and “slight bend in trail.”  There isn’t a single straight section in this entire trail system.  They were easy to locate though and we were having a great time.  (I was in a Zen like state with Red Hot Chili Peppers playing in my head.  I tried to get Amanda to sing it to me, but she didn’t know the lyrics. I had to keep telling myself to slow down, but I really wanted to rail that trail) After we located CP36, a reentrant to the right of the trail, we had a discussion about our best course of action.  We decided we would continue on to CPs 37 and 38, mostly because I really wanted to do the ropes course.  The trail changed from beginner to beginner/intermediate around this area and added some log crossings to the twists and turns and a little more elevation change.  It was still a blast and I would make the drive back just to ride this trail system.  It was in this area that we heard a pack of coyotes in the distance, which was really cool (They were singing Red Hot Chili Peppers).  CP37, “tip of spur” was easy to locate and from there, we made our way to 38, which was the location of the ropes course. We had to show our carabiners, harnesses, and gloves for a gear check, even though we didn’t actually need the carabiners.  The ropes section ended up being a zipline and when you ran out of momentum, you had to pull yourself hand-over-hand to the volunteer on the other side and then do the same thing in reverse.  (I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a slack line) After getting the punch for 38, we headed to some trails that were labeled intermediate.  These had the same log crossings, plus some elevation change in the form of switchbacks.  We found CP39, another “bend in trail,” with no issues and then made plans to get CP40 and then head for the road and back to the finish.  On the way to 40, we passed a team coming down a fire road in the woods.  Scott got over to the right to let them pass, but then hit a mystery object in the brush that catapulted him over into the way of the other team.  After a near collision that left Scott yelling apologies as we continued up the hill, we got on the trail to CP40 (may have pooped my pants slightly).  This was the most challenging section of trail and it was also the newest in the trail system.  The location marker flags for the trail were still in place and the bench cut was very fresh.  There was a bridge that was maybe 3 feet wide and 15 feet long, with no railing, that dropped off into nothingness, on the trail. It was a good thing it was dark and you take a corner before getting to it, because I probably wouldn’t have ridden it otherwise.  We kept riding until we hit our decided-upon time limit to head back to the road, with no success (I still think it was the wrong trail).  We back-tracked on the trail and had to ride the bridge again.  With Scott yelling at me to keep pedaling and not slow down, I made it across.  I then walked back to it and looked down with my headlamp to see how deep it was.  It wasn’t kill-you deep, but you would definitely have a bad time (it was break your neck deep).  The trip back to the road was uneventful and we passed IbuPROfen finishing up the trekking leg that we skipped.  They all got chilled and were wearing their emergency blankets as clothing or hats (I do the same thing when the government and aliens are watching).  The last 15 minutes or so was a road ride back to the finish line.  


After getting off our bikes, we checked with staff to see how Neil was doing and they said he was sleeping in his tent after being evaluated by EMS and getting some fluids and electrolytes.  We carted all our gear back to the tent and I remember just sitting in a chair, overwhelmed by the thought of packing up all my racing and camping gear.  Instead, Scott, Larry, and I shared a celebratory beer and toasted to a great race.  We finished with 36 checkpoints in something in the neighborhood of 23 hours and 15 minutes.  Neil woke up shortly after we finished and offered to drive us home, since he had some sleep.  After breakfast, awards (yay, Chuck and Kate - Team Virtus got 2nd in the 2p coed division!), and another prize drawing (Scott won a Scott helmet - lucky guy)
, we packed up and hit the road.  I think I was asleep before we left the park and I didn’t wake up until we were on Scott’s street. (Driveway) I told them they weren’t allowed to take pictures of me while I was sleeping and I *think* they listened to me(um, yeah, sure).   
For me, the race was definitely hard, and highlighted some areas I need to focus on in training (spending lots of time trekking and running with a pack and also orienteering, specifically).  We worked well together as a team and all four of us had very different skills we brought to the table.  I would definitely race with these guys again in the future.


  1. Just wanted to thank you all for a great time. This was my first 24 AR and you all made it worth while. I would love to race with each of you again..individually or as a team. Many, many thanks.

  2. Great report! It was fun to get to hang out with you guys here and there on the course. Thanks again for the backup on the anti-popping. Looking forward to seeing you at lots more races to come!